Demographic shifts and urban growth are changing park use in many cities, with Canadians desiring more—more variety in programming, different cultural amenities, and opportunities to be involved.

It can be hard for cities to stay on the pulse and manage often competing desires for the same space. In this environment, it becomes even more important to ensure people have opportunities to be involved—from before a design is conceived to long after the ribbon is cut.

These pressures necessitate shaking up the standard community meeting format with methods that reach new people and provide them with meaningful ways to participate that help build bridges across real and perceived differences. And, as COVID-19 has shown, new digital techniques for engagement must be used that go beyond static surveys and allow for collaboration.

  • Many cities are experimenting with creative methods such as park pop-ups, culturally specific activities, participatory budgeting, and take-home toolkits to reach new people.
  • The top two challenges community park groups said they anticipate due to COVID-19 were funding and re-engaging residents in park programming, making city support critical.
  • While 77% of cities said they had developed non-profit partnerships, 58% said private investment in parks (e.g., philanthropy and donations) was staying the same and 23% said it was decreasing.
  • To help build community strength through engagement, provide space for conversations about a park’s social dimensions, like cultural practices, not just physical design/amenities.
  • Engage before the “start” and beyond the “end” by involving people as local experts before designs are produced and developing long-term programming partnerships so amenities are used.
  • As COVID-19 precautions persist, create one-stop shops for residents to find city support, funding, and information on how to re-engage their communities safely in parks.
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